Audiobook Review: Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Media Tie-in
Series: Book 1 of Stranger Things
Publisher: Random House Audio (February 5, 2019)
Length: 8 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Kristen Sieh
For those of us who can’t get enough of Stranger Things, the good news is that Random House has partnered up with Netflix to publish a number of books based on the hit sci-fi horror web show. Of these, Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond is the prequel novel featuring Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, who has been a figure shrouded in mystery ever since the series began. If you’ve ever wondered how she became a test subject in the government research program into the supernatural and paranormal, this book will reveal the story and more.
Suspicious Minds opens in the year 1969, and from Woodstock and the moon landing to the Manson murders and war in Vietnam, it was an eventful summer for the youth of America. For a group of college students in the heartland of Indiana, however, life is about to get even more interesting. After learning of the paid volunteer opportunities offered by the psychology department on campus from her roommate, Terry Ives decides to take part in a research experiment in the hopes of earning some extra cash. There, she meets others who have been selected for the program, including Alice, Gloria, and Ken.
But within the research facility known as the Hawkins National Laboratory, Terry soon suspects that not all is as it seems with the experiment or with its director, Dr. Martin Brenner. As she and her fellow test subjects are made to undergo more demanding and unsettling tests, Dr. Brenner also grows more controlling and tight-lipped about the exact nature of his research. Then, there are the children. One day, Terry happens to meet a little girl in another wing of the building, whose files identify her simply as Eight. The presence of other records indicates the possibility of even more kids kept behind the locked secretive doors of the facility, and Terry and her friends are determined to find out why.
The good news is, whether you’re a diehard fan of Stranger Things or someone who has never seen a single episode, pretty much anyone can pick up and enjoy Suspicious Minds. Because it is a prequel that takes place well before the events of the show, no prior knowledge is strictly required, though of course if you are familiar with the series you will get much more out of the references and other little Easter eggs thrown into the narrative. No surprise perhaps, but one of my favorite things about this book was getting the chance to meet Kali as a little girl.
However, make no mistake, Suspicious Minds also offers up a completely brand-new experience. We are thrown into another era, the late 60’s in this instance, where the country is a very different place than the 80’s setting of the show—socially, culturally, economically, and politically. Bond has done her homework, ensuring that her story feels at least historically convincing. Furthermore, instead of focusing on a group of middle school protagonists, this novel follows an older crowd—college-aged, to be exact. This not only puts Terry Ives at the right age when all this went down, it also serves to make this book more appealing to a wider audience, i.e. older viewers of the show who might find a “new adult” book more palatable than a YA label.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if this desire to please everyone may have contributed to the story’s general lack of focus. There are times when our 19-to-20-year-old characters seem to act, think, and speak like preteens, or certain sections of the book that droned on and on about the sentimental dramas of youth without adding anything relevant to the overall plot. I also thought the first half of the novel was also better written and organized than the second half, which felt a little rushed and messy—a pattern you see often with an author who has a pretty solid idea of what the beginning and end of their book should look like, but struggles to connect them with everything that happens in between.
Still, despite its flaws, Suspicious Minds was a fun read that offered me exactly the right kind of enjoyment and escapism. I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely essential for Stranger Things fans in that it won’t reveal any great secrets or hidden plans for the series, but what this novel manages to do is what all tie-ins should—that is, provide more background history into the original’s story and world. If you’re like me and that’s the sort of thing you’re into, I highly recommend giving this novel a go, especially since there’s plenty in it to appreciate if you like the show.
Audiobook Comments: At first, I felt that narrator Kristen Sieh’s voice was a little off (too peppy, too young) for the kind of book I thought this was going to be, but as the story revealed more of its nature and the “new adult” vibes, this discordance became less and less. I ended up being generally pleased with her performance and overall thought this audiobook was a very light and easy listen.